Cody Bellinger’s career with Dodgers ends as he agrees to terms with Cubs

Five years ago he was the National League Rookie of the Year. Three years ago he was NL Most Valuable Player. And even amid prolonged struggles in the few seasons since, he’d remained a fixture in the roster and the favorite of much of the fanbase.

In recent years, few players have had as a presence with the Dodgers as center fielder Cody Bellinger.

But on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he was not tendered by the team and became a free agent, the slugger’s roller coaster ride in Los Angeles came to an end.

Bellinger agreed to a one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, several people with knowledge of the situation told The Times’ Jorge Castillo.

The deal has a guaranteed value of $17.5 million – he will have a salary of $12 million next season, then a $5.5 million buyout if a 2024 reciprocal option doesn’t is accepted, which is the likely outcome — making it just a little less lucrative as Bellinger’s $18-plus million deal should have been obtained through arbitration if the Dodgers had offered him a contract last month.

“Of course, when we made the decision with Cody a few weeks ago,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on day two of the league’s winter meetings, “we knew it was a possibility.”

In fact, the news didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Though the Dodgers were interested in bringing Bellinger back next season, a reunion always seemed unlikely once he hit the open market.

According to Bellinger’s agent Scott Boras, the outfielder attracted interest from “11 to 12” teams. He received several offers for more than one season, but preferred a one-year contract, which could allow him to rebuild his stock and re-test free agency in a year. And in the end, the bidding for his services ultimately exceeded what the Dodgers were willing to pay.

Bellinger will now be looking for a fresh start in Chicago — while the Dodgers look for ways to replace the newest member of last year’s team, who is leaving free-hand.

“Things are going to look a little different,” manager Dave Roberts said during a news conference with reporters.

Already this offseason, the Dodgers lost two starting pitchers from last year’s rotation: Tyler Anderson, who signed with the Angels last month; and Andrew Heaney, who reportedly agreed Tuesday to a two-year, $25 million deal with the Texas Rangers (which could rise to $37 million with incentives).

Their bullpen has also suffered a few major failures in the past week, with Chris Martin, who joined the Red Sox on a two-year, $17.5 million contract; and Tommy Kahnle, who reportedly agreed to a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the New York Yankees on Tuesday.

More changes could also be on the horizon as longtime third baseman Justin Turner continues to linger in the free agent market.

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger runs to second base after a double.

Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers runs to second base after hitting a double in the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals September 25 at Dodger Stadium.

(Jae C Hong / Associated Press)

Up to this point, however, no departure has been more egregious than Bellinger’s. He’ll leave a hole in midfield that Friedman and Roberts say the team plans to address with an addition this offseason.

“There are some interesting players in the market that we continue to have discussions about,” Friedman said. “That’s why we would like to strengthen our group from our point of view.”

To that end, the Dodgers will have many options to consider. Brandon Nimmo and Andrew Benintendi lead this year’s outfield class after Aaron Judge – who remained unsigned Tuesday night despite a retracted report that he was moving to the San Francisco Giants. Cheaper options like Michael Conforto or Kevin Kiermaier could also make sense.

Internally, James Outman is the team’s most MLB-ready outfielder, though he might initially be picked up more as a part-time draft player. His colleague Miguel Vargas spent some time at left field last year but is likely to see more playing time at second or third base next year.

Still, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Bellinger would become a cornerstone of the franchise. In his first four seasons, he had a .911 on-base plus slugging percentage, hit 123 homers, and was twice an All-Star. He won a Gold Glove, was named a Silver Slugger, and provided some of the most memorable moments during the club’s 2020 World Series Championship streak.

That postseason, however, Bellinger injured his shoulder during a celebration with Kiké Hernández, requiring him to have labrum surgery during the offseason.

He hasn’t looked like his old self since then, hitting just .193 with 29 homers in the last two years.

Boras believes this winter could be a turning point for his client. He insisted that Bellinger finally regain strength in his shoulder. He also confirmed that Bellinger also recently coached at the Oklahoma State baseball facility, where former Big League and Boras client Matt Holliday is a volunteer assistant coach.

“This off-season has been great for him,” said Boras. “He feels very different than at the end of last season.”

And now, it will also involve a change of scenery – one that will mark the offseason, which is quickly becoming an increasingly transformative offseason for a team that won a franchise-record 111 games during the regular season, but only once in the playoffs.

“Our goal is to put together a championship ball club,” Roberts said. “That doesn’t change.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-12-06/dodgers-winter-meetings-cody-bellinger-cubs Cody Bellinger’s career with Dodgers ends as he agrees to terms with Cubs

Emma Bowman

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